Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum

His Story

The Triple Nickels

In 1944, when the Army formed the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, the rule was “whites only.” Blacks were supposed to guard the all-white paratrooper school and patrol the area as they watched the white soldiers train. First Sgt. Walter Morris (of the black service company) had his men emulate the white paratroopers’ calisthenics. During an inspection, they caught the attention of Lt. Gen. Ridgely Gaither, Commander of the Parachute School. Later, he told Morris that President Roosevelt had given orders to form an all-black paratrooper unit.

Walter Morris was selected as the first sergeant of the all-black paratrooper company - the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. Twenty men were brought in from the 92nd Infantry Division from Ft. Huachuca, AZ. The four-week training was grueling - push-ups, sit-ups, running from morning till night the first week. The second week had more calisthenics and an introduction to the 35 foot tower jump. The third week had the 250 foot tower. The fourth week was packing and repacking parachutes and jumping every day, ending with a night jump on Friday. Saturday was graduation when 16 men received their silver wings.

After graduation, they prepared to go to war in Europe. Instead, they were sent to fight forest fires started by Japanese incendiary balloons on the West Coast. “The Triple Nickels” earned a new nickname - “Smoking Jumpers” - for their ability to leap into smoke-filled clearings. They racked up 36 fire fighting missions, making more than 1,000 individual jumps into burning forests.

The 555th Parachute Battalion was redesignated the 3rd Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, and became a part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Some joined the 2nd Airborne Ranger Company at Ft. Bragg and saw action in Korea with the 7th Infantry Division. That company was later attached to the 187th Regimental Combat Team and made jumps in Korea. The unit received a bronze arrowhead for its parachute assault at Munsan-ni. They also received several other awards

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